By John Dewhirst
Previous features on Width of a Post about the Fire Disaster anniversary have all touched on the sense of unease among older supporters and those who were familiar with what happened on 11th May, 1985 about how the commemoration of that day has evolved. (Those sentiments can be read by following the links at the bottom of this page.)
In many respects it feels that the current orthodoxy of how to commemorate the disaster is alien to how it used to be. Veterans of the world wars must have felt likewise as they became fewer in number and younger generations inherited the prerogative of determining how to ‘remember’ events of which they had no experienced memory. Undoubtedly the manner in which 11th May, 1985 is commemorated will continue to evolve.
Whilst it was first and foremost a football disaster, it tends to be overlooked that 11th May, 1985 was a disaster that also befell the city. Aside from the 56 fatalities among those who attended Valley Parade that day, many more suffered terrible physical injuries and there were also mental scars.
The impact however was not limited to spectators given that the emergency services were called upon to deal with the fire and its aftermath. The impact was multiplied further when you take into account the fact that families and friends were all forced to cope with the trauma of what had happened. There are countless stories of bravery and unselfish dedication to duty as well as many private memories of sorrow and grief. This was equally a civic disaster and needs to be remembered as such.
Needless to say, what happened on 11th May, 1985 was as significant in the history of BCAFC as in the history of Bradford. In that wider context it can be remembered as a time when there was genuine unity between different communities and a real sense of common purpose and identity. Likewise it can be remembered for the resilience of the nursing professionals as well as the innovation that brought about the development of the Bradford Burns Unit.
Arguably the disaster created an unprecedented test for the city but it can rightly be said that Bradford and its people responded with heads held high. It could even be claimed that traditional Bradford stoicism played its own part in the response. In fact the whole episode was wrapped up in Bradford culture and a local way of doing things of which we can be proud.
Sir Oliver Popplewell, the judge who chaired the inquiry into the fire wrote of the victims, and Bradfordians in general, in his book ‘Benchmark’ – quoted by the late Paul Firth in his own book, ‘Four Minutes’ – as follows:
“I was astounded at their courage and fortitude, and indeed at the general reaction of the citizens of Bradford to the great disaster which had overwhelmed them. The grief and anxiety and anguish which the disaster caused cannot be overstated. But the citizens seemed to draw on an inner strength and rallied round.”
Later this month Bradford discovers whether it has been successful in its bid to be UK City of Culture in 2025 and, given the desperate need for urban regeneration, hopefully there will be cause for celebration. The response to the Bradford Disaster was about grass roots culture and it would be fitting that if Bradford was chosen as UK City of Culture, the 40th anniversary of the disaster occasioned an appropriate reset of its commemoration.
Remembering but not forgetting – May 10 2021
Forgetting and remembering – May 12 2019
Remembering the survivors and not just the 56 – May 10 2018
Remembering May 11, 1985: Thirty years on – May 9 2015
Remembering May 11, 1985: There is a scarf – May 8 2015
Always remember – May 10 2014
Unforgettable – May 10 2013
Moving on in our own way – May 10 2012